What makes a student shine may differ from person to person, but they all share a passion for learning. They may be top students or involved in an innovative project, or possibly they are participating in ground-­breaking research, playing Pronghorn athletics, fighting for social issues or all of the above!

In celebration of Brain Awareness Week, we caught up with second-year neuroscience grad student Claire Niehaus (BSc '19) to learn more about her uLethbridge experience and her plans for the future.

What have you been up to since being named a Shining Student? Where are you headed next? What are your hopes/plans for the future?

In 2019 I graduated with my BSc in neuroscience from the U of L. I had been involved in research throughout my undergraduate degree, taking full advantage of my independent studies and in my final year, decided that research was the path I wanted to pursue. I am currently in the second year of my MSc neuroscience program, gaining practical research skills and experience, asking MANY more questions, and learning from leaders in the field.

What is your most memorable uLethbridge experience?

My most memorable uLethbridge experience was definitely getting to take part in independent studies. To have the opportunity as an undergraduate student to be involved in and directly contributing to neuroscience research truly shaped my career path. The skills I began developing as an undergraduate student in the lab served me well as I entered my graduate studies and provided me a foundational knowledge on which I continue to build.

What is the most important lesson you have learned as a university student?

Get involved and take control of your university experience. Step out of your comfort zone and join a club, pursue a class you find personally interesting and reach out to other like-minded students. University is a place which fosters both academic and social advancement and you get to be an active part of that. Take advantage of every opportunity presented to you, work hard, and try to find the best in every day.

How did the sudden switch to online learning affect your studies?

I was only taking one class at the time of the shutdown but I did have a research project in full swing. In fact, my experiment was set to begin the day of the shutdown! Like many of my peers, and the world at large, I had to put things on hold while we waited to see what would become of the novel coronavirus. Fortunately, working with the University and under the strictest of health guidelines, I was able to return to campus and continue my research. The distance created by the switch to online life has no doubt required adjustment. No longer having the ability to 'pop-by' and ask questions or bounce ideas off my peers or mentors the way I could before has lead to many more casual email threads and enough zoom calls to last a lifetime. This past year has presented significant challenges, that's a given, but I am grateful to be in good health and be able to continue my work.

Many students chose to move home once things moved online back in March. Did you ever consider returning home? Or did you stay in Lethbridge? Where are you learning from now?

I have stayed in Lethbridge throughout the pandemic and have tried to create a balance of working from campus when it is necessary and from home the rest of the time. Creating a division between 'living spaces' and 'working spaces' has been a challenge but the necessity to work from campus has provided me some relief from that.

What advice would you like to offer to prospective students?

Take advantage of every virtual learning opportunity afforded to you and don't be discouraged! Everyone is trying their best to provide you with a high quality learning environment with just as much opportunity as students who have started years previous. In some cases, an online format can even be better for facilitating discussion and can give you better access to your professors, TA's and peers. After all, the heart of the university experience is an open exchange of ideas and that kind of communication can happen on any platform if you seek it out.